Rebellion is brewing among conservatives on the Republican National Committee over President’s Bush’s attempt to “impose” Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida as “general chairman” of the party, who favors “amnesty” for illegal aliens.
“I will be voting against Senator Martinez if he is nominated for any chairmanship of the RNC,” Tina Benkiser, Texas Republican Party chairman, told The Washington Times yesterday.
Bill Crocker, the elected national committeeman from Texas, says that when the RNC convenes here tomorrow, “Absolutely, I will vote against Martinez.”
The conservatives — one of whom accused the Bush White House of “outsourcing” party leadership — say the general-chairman post does not exist under RNC rules, which can be changed only at the party’s presidential nominating convention.
Unhappy committee members say that, in the past, Republican presidents and RNC leaders have successfully run roughshod over the rules, because the RNC officer presiding over votes at committee meetings have simply overruled points of order and other objections from the floor, with no accredited professional parliamentarians to exercise a check.
This time, the organizers of the rebellion say, their strategy will rely in part on having a parliamentarian present. And violations of Robert’s Rules of Order and of the RNC’s written rules — adopted at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York — could result in legal challenges.
“I have also requested that the RNC employ the services of an independent certified parliamentarian to assure that breaches of the rules are avoided,” North Dakota RNC member Curly Haugland said in a letter sent to all RNC members yesterday. “And I trust that my request will be honored due to the potential need for numerous interpretations of the rules.”
Mr. Bush has said he hopes the RNC will elect Mr. Martinez as “honorary chairman” but that title has changed, in Republican Party press releases and conversations with RNC officials, to “general chairman.”
Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, a Kentucky RNC member and RNC treasurer, is expected to be elected as the national chairman, with the responsibility of day-to-day management of the committee.
“Every president has the prerogative of naming who runs the national committee,” Mr. Duncan told The Washington Times. “The choice is determined by the needs of the party at the time the selection is made.”
Arguing precedent, proponents of the arrangement point out that the RNC members went along with President Reagan’s desire in 1983 to have his friend, Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, voted in as general chairman, even though the rules provided for no such office. The RNC members at the same time elected Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. — an RNC member and chairman of the Nevada Republican Party at the time — as chairman.
But opponents say that 1983 precedent does not justify another violation of the party’s rules.
“I have a hard time understanding the logic,” said RNC member Randy Pullen, who is running for Arizona Republican Party chairman in an election at the end of this month. “Just because the RNC did something wrong once before, somehow that justifies doing it again?”
Mr. Pullen pointed out that Mr. Martinez, who served as Mr. Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development before winning a Senate seat, is not an RNC member. RNC rebels say the rules are clear that the person who heads the committee must be a member of the committee.
“Outsourcing our leadership at this critical time is not an option,” Mr. Haugland said.
Organizers of the rebellion against the White House domination of the RNC — as well as other members who haven’t decided yet to join the planned public showdown at the RNC’s annual three-day winter meeting — say even before Mr. Martinez became an issue, they expected difficulty in fundraising by the national committee for the 2008 election cycle.
“Martinez aside, the simple fact that the GOP no longer is in the majority in Congress is going to make it more difficult to raise money,” said Louisiana RNC member Ross Little.
National committeemen willing to buck the White House on the RNC chairmanship also cite as fundraising obstacles the president’s unpopularity, the conduct of the Iraq war, as well as disillusionment caused by the scandals, big spending and ineptitude of Republican leadership in Washington.
The rebels say that electing Mr. Martinez as head of the RNC would make raising money even more difficult because of resentment by the party’s rank-and-file small donors over Mr. Martinez’s co-sponsorship of legislation to allow millions of illegal aliens to become citizens.
“Martinez’s support of [Arizona Sen. John] McCain’s immigration bill on amnesty for illegal aliens is causing a lot of concern among our base,” said Mr. Pullen. “I happen to know that people — our $25 and $35 donors — are writing on the back of our RNC solicitations for donations: ‘When you close the border to illegal aliens, we’ll open our checkbooks.’ ”
The Central Committee of the Republican Party in the president’s own state of Texas has passed a resolution strongly urging the Texas Republican Party chairman, Mrs. Benkiser, and the two other Texas RNC members to vote against Mr. Martinez.